Targeting a trophy blue catfish in Lake Wateree this month is fairly simple, according to Rodger Taylor of Rock Hill’s Catfish On! Guide Service: just follow the fish up the lake into the river system.

“Blue cats are known to move great distances with seasonal changes,” Taylor said. “Prespawn movements in southern reservoirs put large numbers of fish in a smaller area, which equals an increased chance to get both good numbers and quality sized fish. 

“Big females are known to feed heavily during the late stages of the cold-water period in preparation for the spawn, so catching fish greater than 30 pounds is not unusual at this time of year.”

Top baits for these big, late-winter blues are gizzard shad and white perch, according to Taylor (803-517-7828).

“These two fish are regular forage for blues and are legal to use as bait. Large offerings like big chunks of white perch or large gizzard shad heads are rarely turned down by big blues feeding during prespawn,” said Taylor, who noted that threadfin shad will catch fish but are much smaller and easier to get off the hook. Bluegills will also produce but seem to be a better bait in the warmer months. They must be caught by hook and line to be used for catfish bait, and creel limits apply.

“I prefer to anchor on rocky outcroppings in the upper reaches of Wateree. Rock formations often coincide with deep-water bends on this lake, and (they) offer lots of vertical changes that big blues love.”

Taylor said migrating blues will use the main-river channel as a highway when they move upstream as spring approaches.

“Anchoring along the river channel and fan-casting baits along the drop-off is another way to intercept a trophy fish,” he said. “Creek channels intersect with the main-river channel several places above Wateree State Park. This kind of underwater structure is another big blue magnet, and (it) can be best fished by anchoring and covering varying depths with bottom rigs.”

Taylor likes to give a good hole at least an hour before moving, unless there is no current present.

“I like to start by fishing deep water early in the morning. This time of day often offers the most calm winds and easiest opportunity to anchor effectively,” he said. “Presence of current from the upstream dam is a very positive sign, although absence of current does not rule out the possibility of hooking a great fish.”

Taylor also said that if wind is a problem or the deep-water pattern is not producing, anglers should move to shallow water, because protected coves that have ample sunshine to warm the water will attract bait — and big blues will follow.

Taylor had one final word of advice for trophy catfish anglers, or rather a request.

“Trophy fish are a limited resource and not easy to replace given the long time it takes to grow a 30-pound-plus fish. Big, prespawn females are very susceptible to fishing pressure, so I encourage my parties to release all fish over 25 pounds and practice catch, photograph and release,” he said. “Responsible use of the resource will ensure the fish will continue to get bigger and trophy fishing will continue on Lake Wateree.”